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Meet the Muslim Couple Bringing Quality Halal Food To The Meal Service Industry

Posted on Jun 26, 2017
Noor Suleiman

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By now, you've probably seen the announcement of Halal Chef's launch being shared all over social media. It's a halal meal prep delivery service that has captured the attention of Muslims around the country - and everyone already wants to try it!

I spoke to Rehan Azhar and his wife Zain Abdullah, the founders of Halal Chef. Rehan is a Northwestern University alum and a former management consultant. After traveling to many different places for work, he eventually settled in the West Coast, taking up a job at Airbnb. Zain pursued pharmacy school for a year before realizing her passion lies in fashion, so she switched over to fashion school. She grew up in a foodie family, who are powerhouses in the Chicago halal restaurant scene. A year ago, the two got married, and it didn't take long in Silicon Valley before the entrepreneurial bug bit them hard, and their journey to creating Halal Chef began.

Background:

After getting married, Rehan helped Zain launch a business in the fashion industry. They made tons of mistakes, and learned the ins and out of e-commerce, which gave Rehan a little boost of confidence. He says, "I got to see the whole process from start to finish, and I thought, hey, this isn't so bad, let me see what else I can do." After doing some market research, he and some friends launched a company called Luca Fragrances. But Rehan didn't stop there. He felt that there weren't many news media sites out there like Buzzfeed or Refinery21 that cater specifically to Muslim millennials, so he and two other friends, Omar Hilmy and Rayyan Islam, both serial entrepreneurs, started GenM Media to empower, celebrate, and inspire a generation of Muslims. The team quickly realized that this would be a good platform to launch businesses, and started thinking about what services are needed in the Muslim community.

On starting a new business, Rehan says that "the idea is 1%, and the rest of the 99% is the execution. Everyone has ideas; ideas are a dime a dozen, but it’s all about the execution."

The problem?

Because Zain grew up a foodie, in a family focused on cooking tayyeb food (wholesome, healthy, and halal), her healthy ways rubbed off on Rehan. Before they were married, he used to eat out virtually every day - but this year, Zain proudly says he actually preferred to eat at home most nights for iftar. 

In their quest to eat healthy and halal food, the couple realized that quality halal meat was hard to come by, putting Muslims who were dedicated to eating only halal in a predicament. They found themselves at a crossroads: having to choose between eating halal and eating quality meats, and thought, "if this is a problem for us, it must be a problem for other people."

"There's a massive gap in the market for halal, kosher, Mediterranean, South Asian, and even Asian cuisine, everything from Vietnamese Pha to Desi to Arab food,” says Rehan, "so we wanted to fill that void."

The Solution?

Eventually, the idea dwindled away, but a few months ago, they started talking again and felt the time was right to start Halal Chef.

The time is right; this is a time when Muslims are more united, are coming together as a cohesive community, and a lot of services are popping up for Muslims by Muslims. Muslims want a voice. They want to be heard they want to show that hey they exist in the community. Both the fact that they're becoming more engaged and more active and the fact that organic food is on trend and halal organic food is tough to find shows there's a clear need in the market, so we wanted to do something about it.

Zain works on developing recipes that are healthy, delicious, and optimized for meal prep kits. She focuses more on the "art" of the business, while Rehan focuses more on the business aspect of it. Her biggest challenge is trying to find farms that source halal and organic meat, but it's something she's passionate about. She says, "When you eat at home and you cook with quality meat, you control what goes inside your body," and that's what they're trying to bring to other people. 

Here’s everything you need to know about Halal Chef:

Where + When: Through Halal Chef, Rehan and Zain hope to bring healthy organic halal meals to Muslims around the country. They'll be launching in July first in Chicago, followed by other urban markets.

What: The duo put a heavy focus on the fact that their meats will be both grass-fed and organic, as those can be two different things. Organic means no added hormones, and no antibiotics, while grass-fed doesn't necessarily mean there aren't hormones or antibiotics in the animals.

"We're obsessive about the types of foods we put into our bodies and want to make sure that the obsessiveness we have for ourselves is something we can give to everyone around us."

In addition, customers will receive organic produce and ingredients, as well as recipes created by his wife and her family to enjoy.

How: Halal Chef is a subscription meal prep service

  • Each menu item will contain two portions, for two people.
  • Each meal kit will come with all the ingredients needed to make that particular recipe (minus the salt, pepper and olive oil) along with recipe cards for step by step instructions. Each box will be insulated and packed with ice to preserve freshness.
  • Users will have the opportunity to subscribe to weekly meals but can skip a week or opt out at any time.

An opportunity to give back:

"What I've always believed is that a company shouldn't just be for profit, it should always be for the betterment of the community. Halal Chef is a for-profit social enterprise. What that means is, for every meal that someone purchases, we will be donating a cooked meal to someone in that city."

Photo credit: Sarah Kamshoshy, SF 3/21/17

The inspiration for this? A picture put up by a friend on Facebook, showing a line of Google employees waiting to board their bus to work next to a line of homeless people lying down in tents. The contrast was insane, Rehan says, as the people on the left's average income is easily six figures while the people on the right had no more than $30 a month. He continues, "We want to give a nutritious meal to someone in the city where you purchased your meal from. That's because charity, as it is in the Prophetic tradition, should be given to the people around you first before it's given to people further out and abroad. We always focus on giving to people in third world countries - as we should - but we also shouldn't forget about our Muslim and non-Muslim brothers and sisters right here at home."

Halal Chef shows that Muslims are key players in the startup space. It’s definitely a happy time for health conscious Muslims in the US! This Halal meal prep service is exceptionally designed with faith, health, and even charity in mind.

Stay tuned - Halal Chef will be launching in just a few short weeks inshallah!

Halal Chef was founded by serial entrepreneur, former management consultant, and current growth marketer at Airbnb, Rehan Azhar, and his wife, Zain Abdullah, a veteran of the Chicago halal food scene who has helped build over a dozen fast-casual and sit down eateries ranging from Cedars Mediterranean Kitchen in Hyde Park to Mezza Grill in the Loop. Together, they hope to make eating halal healthy, easy, affordable, and most of all, delicious.

For more information, follow Halal Chef on Facebook and sign up on their website


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